Says Igbo likely to clinch presidency on party’s platform
‘PDP may hijack APC’
Chief Frank Kokori, former General Secretary of Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) is disappointed in the federal and state governments. Why? He believes they have failed in their major responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the people. He is particularly shocked by what is happening to the people of Southern Kaduna. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he speaks on various issues.
There is so much ethnic and religious intolerance in Nigeria and it appears the situation is getting worse by the day since President Buhari came on board. The festering situation in Southern Kaduna is particularly, a major cause for concern for many Nigerians. Is it that government is incapable of handling the situation or there is something sinister in all of this?
The problem is in the whole country and not only in Southern Kaduna. Meanwhile, government has no reason for being unable to handle the herdsmen/farmers problem. Some people talk about external people perpetrating the crime; what is the government there for? One of the roles of any government is to protect the people from external aggression, whether from Fulani aggression or Boko Haram. I am terribly disappointed in the government on that issue. Government should not give us any excuse on that issue. Those people are being emboldened because the security people are not handling them the way they should handle them. Who are the Fulani herdsmen? Even the governors of the areas affected should be ashamed of themselves. If I am a governor of a state, you cannot come and do any rubbish in my state. It is a question of organising the local people through vigilance groups in collaboration with the police and you achieve results. So, the governments should be blamed both at the federal and the state levels. Criminals are criminals and you deal with them. I think the government has failed on the issue of the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes. The magic that Buhari has done on the Boko Haram insurgency, he should do the same thing on the Fulani/herdsmen. The herdsmen are not more brutal than the Boko Haram sect. There is no question of not dealing with the herdsmen. I am very disappointed and it pains me any day I hear that all these scores of people are being killed by the ruthless vagabonds you call Fulani herdsmen. So, I condemn them. Every normal person and patriot would condemn that rubbish. But the problems are on the doorsteps of the security people and in any case, it is the government that controls the security.
Your expression of disappointment would come to many as a surprise considering that you are one of the ardent supporters of President Buhari?
I am one of those who believe in Buhari but it does not mean that if he is not doing well, I should keep quiet. People know me for that. If you are doing the right thing, I would praise you but if you are not doing the right thing, you do not expect me to praise you. When I talk about the federal government, I have Buhari in mind because if you give the security people the right act, I know what they can do. But again, there is a lot the governors could do. If you mobilise local people against invaders, you can take control of the situation. So, I think the governors are part of the problem because they are the chief security officers of their states. If I am a chief security officer of my state, I should know what to do. Apart from real wars where the Federal Government should intervene, internal security issues like herdsmen/farmers clashes should be taken care of by the governors. You, as a chief security officer should also be able to take care of the cattle rustlers. The herdsmen and the farmers should co-exist peacefully. I believe that every right thinking Nigerian knows that Fulanis have always herded their cattle with their long sticks. That was what they used in those days. But now, how come people come with automatic weapons and the governors who call themselves chief security officers cannot do anything about it. I am sure they could do something about it. It is not whether I supported Buhari. No, after all, Buhari does not tell them to go and do all the rubbish. But he could read the riot act to them. If you look at the security situation in the country today, you would find out that if they kidnap every prominent person, the security people would unravel it. I give you one classic example or many of them. When Okonjo-Iweala’s mother was kidnapped in Delta State, there was so much noise. Remember that many people were being kidnapped in Delta State at that time and nothing was heard about them and some of them were not even found. Most of the victims were killed and nobody said anything. But in the case of Okonjo-Iweala’s mother, when the Federal Government read the riot act, her mother was found immediately. Also look at the kidnappings in the high profile schools, when the government says the criminals should be fished out, you see what the security people do. I think that Nigerian governments at times are not serious and most of the problems of the country are due to lack of seriousness of the government. I am one of those who support Buhari because of the issue of corruption. If not for corruption, a lot of things could go well in this country. Most of the problems that we have in Nigeria are caused by corruption. Some people are saying that Buhari’s government is fighting corruption only but they do not know that if you kill corruption, all other things would go on well. The Bible says “seek ye first the kingdom of God and every other thing would be added unto you.” Once you kill corruption, there would be power, once you kill corruption, security people would work and so on and so forth. So, everything is centred on corruption.
As one of the foremost activists in Nigeria, are you comfortable with what looks like a conspiracy of silence against this government unlike during former President Jonathan’s tenure when any small slip by the government attracted spontaneous public outcry?
Who told you that Nigerians are not talking? Nigerians are talking. These ones that Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose and Fani Kayode and many others are doing, are those not talking? You the journalists, are talking and writing. Look at the social media. The social media are awash with all manners of information. The people are talking.
But the manner of talking is different because during your active days, people were easily mobilised to protest some perceived negative policies of the government.
The civil society of that age including labour and even the media of that age, were more patriotic and things were not as bad as they are now. Then if you had a job, you did not care much about currying favour but because of the bad economic situation, people compromise a lot now. The journalists of that age were well paid. You could not say that you were owing journalists of those days of Daily Times, The Guardian, NTA and so on. They were the middle class. Today, can you say that journalists belong to the middle class when they do not even pay them salaries? This is not to talk of civil servants and not to talk of the rate of unemployment in the country. So, in a society where you do not have social security or anything, what do you expect? Do you blame the youth? If you look at it, they are not protected. At 24, 25, 26, I was heading a section then in NEPA. At 26 in Lagos, I was heading a section before I even went to the university. All the engineers then were whitemen and I was reporting to them directly. I had the complement of over 20 staff under me. Then, without me, you could not even have a meter in Lagos. So, in such a situation, would I have had time to go and be a robber or kidnapper when at that age I was already holding a big job? But today, even the so called ‘big men’ children at over 30 years, they do not have anything doing or they are just in one kind of under employment or the other. So, what are you telling me? That is what is causing a lot of problems in this country. We know all these things even though nobody supports criminality. Buhari has just come to repair the country but unfortunately, he came at a time when it is almost helpless too because of the situation and his age and everything. The things I used to do then at NUPENG, I cannot do it now because of age. At 73, I cannot do all those again. So, obviously, when you are old, there are a lot of things you cannot do. You people in the media too, you are not as bold as journalists of those days because you are under your publishers’ control. Most of the publishers are business people and politicians. When you have a publisher that is not a businessman or a politician but just neutral, he would do better.
From your wealth of experience, if you sit down now and reflect on Nigeria, what do you see especially against the backdrop of what obtained in the past. What are the prospects in the nation’s future?
If Buhari is allowed to work, I see a very good future for this country. He would succeed if he gets the right people supporting him. I think one of the problems he has now is that he is so insular; in other words, he is working with very close knit cabal who do not want to see people like us. People like us were members of the APC but we were not consulted on anything. I am a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) but up till now, we have not been inaugurated. The few meetings we held from 2014 till last year, I think Odigie Oyegun, the chairman of the party, chaired most of such meetings. We do not have a chairman of the BoT. We are yet to be inaugurated. These are people who could speak truth to power. Most of the people who are in the BoT, are former governors, old and mature people. These are people who would no longer cringe for anybody. For instance, will I cringe for anybody again? In my active days, I did not cringe for anybody. Is it now I would cringe for anybody? The APC has a lot of problems and the president causes one of the problems. In any democracy, the president cannot extricate himself from politics. You cannot say that because you are the president, you would not look at your party. It is not proper to think I do not have anything to do with politics or the party that put you in power. That is what is causing the problems in the APC today. This is because if he had been involved in all these things, the National assembly could not have been taking a different route and him going the other way. We should even thank God that people like Saraki are now trying to cooperate with him. If you are a leader, you must take control of your party and that is what I am seeing in America today. Trump may think he is riding high but after some time, he is going to have a lot of problems. That is what Buhari did not get right initially but I think he must have been learning his lessons. Even our party is still in a learning period. The APC is not mature yet but not that I want it to be like the case of the PDP. The PDP became so bold and emboldened that they were just doing what they liked. But I want the APC to be a better party; now, we have not got to 40 per cent of being a good party. I feel that by now, we should have passed this stage. The APC is not developing the way I want it to develop.
With your feeling, do you think majority of Nigerians will support APC in the 2019 general elections?
The APC is lucky because the PDP is not a real opposition party for now because of their bad leadership for good 16 years. But again, you could see that with all the problems that the APC has, you can see that there is no alternative in the country. That is why you saw the Ondo State election and the way it went; that is why you saw the Edo State election and the way it went. You could see even Senators from a state like Akwa Ibom crossing over to the APC. You could imagine that type of thing. You could see even people like the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani defecting to the APC. You could see the way the APC is even growing in the South East now. All the powerful politicians are defecting to the APC. So, tell me which party that is going to beat the APC.
But don’t you agree with those who argue that with the influx of people to the APC that what happened to the PDP is likely to happen to the ruling party. Don’t you envisage an implosion in the APC in future?
There would not be an implosion in the APC. The year 2019 is around the corner and I do not see any alternative. The APC would still sweep the polls; obviously. The party would put its house in order; in other words, the internal mechanism to actually reorganise the party properly. It has not reached a stage where there would be an implosion because people have not seen a lot of money to spend. You know the PDP implosion became so abnormal because there was so much money that the people became so independent. But in the APC now, there is no money for anybody. The party cannot even pay the headquarters’ electricity bill. We are only hoping that the PDP would not hijack the party. This is because those who are coming in have the money and they are desperate politicians. I pray that the PDP should not hijack the APC. What is happening now is that any state where they join the APC, they automatically become the leaders and they rise almost to the top. Most of the original founders of the APC are even afraid of them. See in the whole East, Ken Nnamani is already the leader and even the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha has already acknowledged that. This is because Ken has already made it. They are all big shots coming into the APC. I even feel that if the South East is going to have the presidency, it would be realised on the APC platform. The way the Igbo people are rushing into the APC, after 2019, they would seek the presidency on the platform of the APC.